After the Telegraph reported last week that India was waging a massive effort to get stolen artifacts back from the UK, government officials from the former country contested the article, stating that it had exaggerated repatriation efforts currently being undertaken.
The Telegraph‘s article said that the repatriation efforts could target thousands of objects, including the Koh-i-Noor, a 105.6-carat diamond set in the Crown of Queen Elizabeth that was once sited on the Mughal emperors’ throne.
Some of the artifacts that the Telegraph said the Indian government was considering are held in the collections of the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, both in London, and of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.
With regard to the British Museum, the Telegraph said, the Indian government was specifically seeking the return of the Amaravati Marbles, a group of centuries-old limestone sculptures that were removed by Sir Walter Elliott in the 1840s. They have often been compared to the Parthenon Marbles by repatriation advocates.
Per the Telegraph, the repatriation requests for these objects and many more would be made by diplomats in the UK in keeping with a dictum from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose Hindu nationalist agenda has been controversial, both within India and abroad. The Archaeological Survey of India, a government-run body overseeing matters related to cultural heritage, would be charged with facilitating the efforts.
The Telegraph cited New Delhi officials and quoted Govind Mohan, secretary for the Indian ministry of culture, who said, “It is of huge importance to the government. The thrust of this effort to repatriate India’s artefacts comes from the personal commitment of prime minister Narendra Modi, who has made it a major priority.”
In the days after the Telegraph report published, other outlets ran articles that seemed to contradict it. The Hindu quoted the Indian government as saying, “It is also not true that Ministerial and Diplomatic resources are being mobilised toward securing the return of thousands of artefacts from the U.K.” Still, the government said, “India remains committed to work with international partners in building holistic and cooperative ties, in which our shared history is an important pillar, but not the only one.”
Meanwhile, NDTV reported that the Koh-i-Noor diamond had never even been mentioned by the government officials quoted by the Telegraph, whose story has not changed since it first published.
Even though some Indian publications cast doubt on the Telegraph report, some remained optimistic about what could emerge from it. The Guardian interviewed Sathnam Sanghera, a journalist who has written on colonialism and the UK, who firmly stated the Koh-i-Noor diamond would eventually make its way back to India.
“In the next 10 years, it will totally change,” Sanghera said, referring more broadly to attitudes toward institutions in the UK that hold cultural heritage. “Young people in Britain feel the same way about loot in museums as we felt about animals in zoos. They can’t quite believe it is allowed. I think it is inevitable.”